MUSKEGON – Arena football is usually about offenses that dominate defenses and run up big scores.

But the West Michigan Ironmen defense poked a big hole in that theory on Saturday night at Trinity Health Arena.

The Ironmen D forced nine turnovers and scored six touchdowns in a lopsided 81-6 victory over the Ohio Blitz in the opening game of the Great Lakes Arena Alliance season.

The visiting Blitz had trouble doing anything at all against the West Michigan defense, and the dominance started very early in the game.

The Ironmen’s Zach Watts recovered a fumble in the end zone on Ohio’s very first play from scrimmage. West Michigan’s Willis Shanks picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown on Ohio’s second possession.

Ironmen defenders pressure an Ohio ball carrier. Photo/Jeremy Clark

The Ironmen’s Derek VandenBosch returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown on Ohio’s third possession.

West Michigan’s Raheem Stokes intercepted a pass and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown on Ohio’s fourth possession.

You get the idea.

One defender who saw more than his share of scoring action was West Michigan’s Willie Shanks, who had two pick-six touchdowns and an interception that he didn’t score on.

“I didn’t think I was going to have that many,” Shanks said. “My D-line had a great push, they threw the ball near me, and I was going to find a way to get it. They had a decent team and it was a great first win, so let’s just keep on winning to the end.”

West Michigan’s John Ross blows past a defender and heads for the end zone. Photo/Jeremy Clark

With the Ironmen defense leaving the visitors almost completely helpless, there was little chance that there could be a competitive game.

Ohio’s troubles began even before the contest, because the Blitz forget to bring their jerseys on the road trip and had to compete wearing borrowed jerseys that said “Muskegon” on the front.

If there hadn’t been a running clock in the second half, the Ironmen almost certainly would have scored 100 points.

That being said, Ironmen head coach Nate Smith was happy to see such a dominant performance out of his defense.

“It is remarkable that at one point of the game we had three offensive plays and were up 34-0,” Smith said. “They are opportunistic and athletic, and when they get their hands on the ball they are going to try to score.”

The Ironmen offense also did very well, when it got the chance to take the field.

The Ironmen’s Keondre Banks-Craig celebrates a touchdown. Photo/Jeremy Clark

Rookie running back DavVeon Taylor scored on a 15-yard touchdown run, quarterback Alex Carder threw two touchdown passes to John Ross and one to Keondre Banks-Craig.

Carder went 6-for-8 passing for 84 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 11 yards.

Ross caught four passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns, while Banks-Craig had two receptions for 20 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, Watts paced West Michigan with five tackles while also recovering a fumble and scoring a touchdown. Alje Buiter and Ryan Armstrong each had three tackles.

VandenBosch and Keith Love each recovered two fumbles and scored one touchdown. Shanks had three interceptions and scored twice.

The Ironmen’s Willie Shanks (22) is congratulated by teammate Zach Watts (33). Photo/Jeremy Clark

“We didn’t play great, but I am really proud about how our guys responded,” Smith said. “Our guys do a great job working in the offseason and they spend a lot of time getting together. It also helps they have been playing together for a while. It is a matter of refining, and we will get better as the season goes on.

“We have a great product on the field and they are professionals. They love playing here and love the Iron Nation so it is pretty cool.”


First Quarter

WM 12:45 – DavVeon Taylor Sr.15 yard run (kick failed) WM 6, Ohio 0
WM 10:40 – Zach Watts fumble recovery in end zone (Ben Townshend kick) WM 13, Ohio 0
WM 6:21 – Willie Shanks 25-yard interception return (kick failed) WM 19, Ohio 0
WM 1:31 – Derek Vandenbosch 20-yard fumble return (Ben Townshend kick) WM 26, Ohio 0

Second Quarter

WM 7:58 – Raheem Stokes 36-yard interception return (pass Townshend to Clay Oliver) WM 34, Ohio 0
Ohio 2:55 – Arian Terry 31-yard reception (kick blocked) WM 34, Ohio 6
WM :31 – John Ross 25-yard catch from Alex Carder (pass Carder to Bank-Craig) WM 42, Ohio 6
WM :06 – Keyondre Banks-Craig 3-yard catch from Alex Carder (2-pt failed) WM 48, Ohio 6
WM :00 – Willie Shanks 25-yard interception return (Ben Townshend kick) WM 55, Ohio 6

Third Quarter

WM  9:53  – John Ross 5-yard catch from Alex Carder (kick failed) WM 61, Ohio 6
WM  3:11 – Keith Love 40-yard fumble recovery (pass Carder to Ross) WM 69, Ohio  6

Fourth Quarter

WM 8:18 – Danny Hugan II 28-yard run (2-point attempt failed) WM 75, Ohio 6
WM 00 – Danny Hugan II 7-yard run WM 81, Ohio 6